Friday, January 23, 2009

Puget Sound Regional Council’s Transportation 2040 planning process on KUOW

The Puget Sound Regional Council recently released five alternatives for their Transportation 2040 regional transportation planning process. PSRC’s website has a summary of the five alternatives being offered, which vary widely in their scope and approach to future transportation planning in the Central Puget Sound. Transportation Choices will engage the PSRC process as they adopt one of the five alternatives, or some sort of hybrid version. Transit funding, climate change considerations, and demand management tools are pieces of the discussion that TCC will continue to advocate for.

KUOW held a panel discussion on the transportation 2040 alternatives this morning on ‘weekday’ at 9am. For some background information on the Transportation 2040 process, go to the KUOW website to listen to this morning’s program. TCC will continue to track, engage, and update you on this important issue.

1 comment:

  1. Peak Oil and Transportation 2040

    How we respond to a potentially large increase in oil prices will likely be the dominant factor in conversations about the metropolitan transportation system over the life of this plan. Many experts, including such left wing radicals as Dick Cheny, see the end of the period where oil production can keep pace with economic growth. Experts quibble over exactly when we hit peak oil, some say we hit that point in 2005, others say we have about 20 years or so. Even under the most optimistic scenarios, the system built under this plan will be the system we will use in the post-peak oil years. This plan is our last shot at making the strategic investments needed to adapt.

    Peak Oil, Price Elasticity and the Alternatives
    One of the major uncertainties regarding how the market will respond to peak oil is the price elasticity of gasoline. Users may shift to alternative fuels, alternative motor vehicle drivetrain technologies or other modes in response. Changes in fleet mix or changes in motor vehicle fuels may cushion the blow, and cause the change in cost per VMT (where this enters the transportation model) but these shifts will at best simply make the cost per mile not go up as fast. Peak oil will not come out in the wash. We cannot use alternative fuels and hybrid cars to assume this effect away.

    Although the price elasticity of oil is endogenous to the alternatives, I would argue that the features of the plan, by increasing the range of alternatives available to the traveling public, will affect the ability of users to shift and lower the cost of travel. It may not affect the price of oil, but it can affect the marginal propensity to consume by making close substitutes more available for a given trip. If we are in an environment where fuel costs are increasing, I would propose that public policies that increase the availability of close substitutes will increase the resilience of the metropolitan economy and make it less sensitive to the effects of rapid swings in oil prices. This should be a factor in evaluating the alternatives.

    Peak Oil, Economic Efficiency and Competitiveness
    The alternatives assume that total growth in population and employment, the size of the regional economy, are constant across the alternatives. This is reasonable, appropriate and provides a very good opportunity to gauge how the alternatives perform in terms of their economic efficiency. If oil prices go up, regions that can produce their economic output using less oil will be more competitive than regions that will require more oil. This strongly suggests so we should be favoring the alternative that is least dependent on oil. The total cost, public and private, of producing a fixed amount of economic activity is the total prices of the alternative. As cost per mile increases, how does this change economic efficiency of the alternatives? The alternative that has the lowest cost total life cycle cost is the most economically efficient because the amount of economic output is constant across the alternatives. The alternative that is the least sensitive to increases in fuel costs will be the most competitive in an era of escalating costs and increases in price instability. These may not be the same alternative and may not be the one with the lost cost in initial infrastructure outlay. Alternative A may have the lost total cost for a VMT cost of X, but Alternative B may be least sensitive to changes in X, probably because it has the lowest total VMT. Alternative C, probably the base case scenario, way have the lowest cost to build. The way we typically think of competitiveness might favor C because it has the lowest public outlay, or one might favor the alternative with the lowest projected congestion or delay and think of economic efficiency in terms of time and congestion. I think we need to be paying much more attention to the factors of total life cycle cost and the price resilience.